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Critical Beats Down 6: Press Play


Too many forget the simple magic of the audiocassette. Invented by Philips in 1962 as a consumer friendly, cheap and lo-fi aid to office dictation and portable recording that did not involve massive magnetic reels, music was at first not on the agenda. In a move no-one in today's corporate universe of copy protection, royalties and standards bodies, Philips listened to the advice of the emerging innovator, Sony, and make the basic design of the system free for all to use. No licence fees, or royalty payments. By 1968, 85 different companies were making these things and 2.4 million were out there.By 1980, there were far too many to count and posher cars had them installed.Now, a lot of heads out there are only too ready to tout the digital dream as the spreader of subcultures and pollinator of scenes.That was the idea.I bought into it at the beginning. And it sort of worked. Trouble is now, people far richer, cleverer and more connected than me think its a nightmare. The big trends crush the smaller. Digital and Social Media amplify the hits and directions on the one hand, and only offer space to the most obscure on the other. So they are at the forefront of stealing those beats above 150 or 160 bpm, as that is a trend. The only subcultures and scenes truly pollinated by the schema are too small to be relevant. Acoustic Gypsy Jazz played on Nose Flutes has a future here. Daniele Baldelli, Beppe Loda, Ron Hardy and the 90s greatness of the real Mills, Hawtin, Surgeon and friends do not. They are not big enough, or weird enough. So as they live on, the massive trends and currents infest their work more than in the tape era.Tapes really were person to person with no context. In the pre-Net era a friend could give me a tape of some London pirate thing, or a club night or bedroom mix and I would have nothing to compare it to. If I dug it, I did for what it was, hard, true and in the moment.This is just what happened with these Cosmic tapes.They are something different. Some claim to have them back to 1979, but chances are they would have disintegrated unless baked slow as you need to with old tapes.So try this one from 1981.It is completely batshit insane.The first thing to dig is that Baldelli is a DJ in a way Braque was a collagist, or Bacon referred to countless magazine clippings to turn into one painting. This is not reacting to a dancefloor in the moment - this technique comes from the baroque, classical tradition.Sets were rehearsed down to the nearest millisecond. Using three or for direct drive decks, delays, pedals, crude early Apple II based samplers and whatever other tech could be slammed together.He has taken the most eclectic possible record bag and mashed, melted and masticated it up into a modernist live orchestra. I bet a lot of the crowd were not dancing, at least in a normal sense. This is for freaking out on speedballs, downers, acid and ludes. Fingering strangers, drooling in a pile at the side of the room. Not jacking but wacking, yourself off, or someone else, or else just being in the moment taking in the incredible combination of tempo and sonic alchemy.Wack fusion from Jon Anderson and Passport and New Age noodles from Vangelis are sped up into some kind of nitrous and speed haze. Weak Belgian Hi-NRG is slowed from 45 to 33 and looped to reveal an inner soul never dreamed of before. MOR New Wave worthy of the Top Gun Soundtrack is cut apart with odd Spanish disco records and the breaks are ignored in favour of the synth bridge.Sly Stone at 16rpm, EQed without mercy. Why? It works.We are on another planet. I'm not sure what MDMA would even do to this, its too introspective, too delicate for gurning.And that is the problem, as well as an opportunity.Next, we will unspool some of the best of these tapes before meeting the great rival, Beppe Loda and Typhoon. Who is a bridge back to Ron Hardy, and our next clues looking for The Missing Beats.

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